11 August 1932 – 12 January 2023
Sheldon M. Berlow, a prominent Buffalo realtor who used his love of cutting-edge culture and vast knowledge of real estate to promote downtown development and avant-garde art, died unexpectedly Jan. 12 at his Elmwood Village home. He was 90.
Mr. Berlow made headlines in 1976 when he formed an investment group to buy the city’s second-tallest structure, the 29-story Rand Building, and moved his offices there. The following year, he led a fundraising effort to restore the beauty of dilapidated Lafayette Square in front of the Rand Building.
He earned the admiration of a generation of experimental artists by arranging for Media Study-Buffalo, which originated at the University at Buffalo, to buy the former Mars Hotel on Delaware Avenue for $1 and provide them with a base of operations .
“He understood what art was about,” says Anthony Bannon, former director of the Burchfield Penney Art Center who worked with him on several projects. “He would go deeply, deliberately into events that would confuse him. He would demand a thoughtful interpretation and it didn’t matter what medium it was in.”
Mr. Berlow has been a constant presence at theater presentations, concerts and art openings for more than half a century. He never missed a performance in the North American New Music Festival, which he helped make a success.
Visitors to his home, his son Eric recalled, included the composer John Cage.
Born in Steubenville, Ohio, an only child, Sheldon Mayer Berlow came to Buffalo as a child when his father, Nathan, took a position at one of the downtown department stores. After the death of his mother when he was 11, he boarded with an aunt.
In 1950, the year his father died, he graduated from Bennett High School and received a gold pin for four years of service as an office monitor.
He was awarded a scholarship to Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, where he was the corresponding secretary for Theta Xi fraternity and a member of Air Force ROTC.
Commissioned as an Air Force officer after earning his bachelor’s degree in 1954, he was assigned to the Far East after duty at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida and attained the rank of first lieutenant.
He passed his state real estate licensing exam in 1959 and with his partner Arthur H. Judelsohn founded Berlow Real Estate in 1971, specializing in commercial land and building sales, leasing and financing, with offices in the former Genesee Building.
The Rand Building was about 60% occupied when Berlow and Judelsohn bought it and started running it. It was 97% full when it was sold 10 years later.
During that time Mr. Berlow became chairman of the Downtown Core Coalition, a group that promoted revitalization and included building owners, retailers and the Greater Buffalo Development Foundation.
He arranged numerous high-profile real estate transactions, including the purchase of the Knox Mansion on Delaware Avenue by Computer Task Group.
The firm has also brokered retail deals across the state, working with national chains such as Home Depot, Target and Office Max. When Eastern Hills Mall in Clarence was under construction in the mid-1970s, Mr. Berlow the letting agent.
He sold his interest in the firm to Judelson in the late 1990s, but remained involved as an associate broker after its sale to Pyramid Brokerage. In 2011, he arranged the sale of the original Premier Wines store on Delaware Avenue in the Town of Tonawanda.
He began to take the lead in cultural institutions in the 1960s. He was chairman of the Conductors’ Committee of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, assisting the then music director Lukas Foss, and in 1969 gave great support to the Save the Philharmonic fund drive.
He chaired the board of advisors for the experimental American Contemporary Theater in the old Pierce Arrow building and was a founder of Hallwalls.
“He supported the original Hallwalls,” Bannon said. “He bought their pieces and invited them to his house.”
He was a member of the first advisory board for the restoration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House and chaired the Arts Advisory Committee for what was then Buffalo State College.
In 1987, he organized and raised funds for the Festival of Five to celebrate the reopening of the college’s Rockwell Hall after its renovation.
The festival features a performance of Buffalo-born playwright AR Gurney’s “The Middle Ages,” the return of Lukas Foss to conduct the Buffalo Philharmonic in premieres by Buffalo-based composers Anton Wolf and Robert Cantrick, and a performance art piece, “Killing Angels” included. ,” by Hallwalls co-founder Robert Longo.
Originally a board member of the nonprofit Tralfamadore Jazz Institute, he served as interim chairman and helped arrange financing to reopen the downtown showcase after it closed in 1987.
In 2000, he was part of the committee that selected artists for Herd About Buffalo, a public art project that created numerous bison sculptures and raised funds for Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“It is difficult to imagine Buffalo’s world-renowned and influential contemporary art, experimental film, video art and perhaps especially new music scene since the late 1960s without the presence, passionate involvement and patronage in every sense of that term, of Sheldon Berlow,” the developer and conservationist Frits Abell wrote after hearing of his death.
He was also a past president of the Nichols School Parent Council, a past trustee of Calasanctius School and the Park School of Buffalo, a past director of the University at Buffalo Foundation and a past trustee of the Buffalo State College Foundation.
He was a past vice president of the Buffalo World Hospitality Association and hospitality chair for the Erie Bi-Annual Commission.
He was a fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science, a member of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library Board of Trustees, a member of the board of managers for the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences and a trustee of the John McHale and Magda. McHale Archives Foundation.
He was also a past president of the Friends of the School of Architecture and Environmental Design at UB, a past secretary of the City of Buffalo Assessment Review Board and a former adjunct professor at the UB Honors College.
At the invitation of a teacher here who gave him French lessons, he went to Paris in 1959 and was introduced to her cousin, Nadine Layani, an Algerian-born actor in the Comedie Francaise.
They were married in 1960, shortly after she came to Buffalo to visit her cousin. A French teacher at Holy Angels Academy and operator of Par Avion Pantry, a French cooking school, she died in 1978.
He remarried in 1987 to Mary Hanrahan Clark.
In addition to his wife, survivors include two sons, Eric L. Berlow and Carrington Clark; two daughters, Alexa L. Berlow and Susan LaVersa; and five grandchildren.
A graveside service was held Jan. 16 in Forest Lawn.